I met with mother of a student last week. “I just want some advice”, she said. She began the conversation by telling me that her daughter had to work for her grades, was usually an A/B type student, with mostly A’s and one or two B’s each marking period. Her daughter had recently made a high C on a test in one class and a low B in another. She then proceeded to say that she’d told her daughter that if she made below an 85 on a major assignment, she’d lose her phone.
“ What do you think?” she asked. I answered by asking some questions.
“Do you have problems with her attitude toward you and her dad?”
“ Does she procrastinate on homework or fail to turn some assignments in?
“ Does she use the phone or other technology too much or let it interfere with her homework?”
The answer to all of these was “No.”
“What are her extra-curricular activities?”
She has a few that take up time after school and occasional evenings.
Thankfully, this mom is a longtime friend of mine. We were in the fifth week of an eighteen week semester when this conversation took place. I don’t presume to know how to parent anyone’s children but my own, and I’ve questioned myself plenty with them; but they are now in college and I have gleaned a few lessons from my mistakes.
“ You really want to know what I think? …You are being too hard on her,” I said.
I went on to explain: this is a girl who appears to be giving her best. She is obedient at home, respecting the parental boundaries around technology, and conscientious with her studies. I went on to tell my friend that high school is a whole new world; the students are now working toward a semester grade, not a nine-weeks one. They have to juggle four core classes and a foreign language at a college-preparatory level. The workload increases in volume and complexity as they enter high school. Rare is the student who makes straight A’s in every subject and also can handle some extra curricular activities. Subjects are harder and even a student’s best effort doesn’t always net an “A”. Ninth grade, in particular, is an adjustment period. Students are learning to manage their time, to make choices, to prioritize assignments and study time. We educators are in this process with them, and it is a process. December’s final exam and semester grade is still a long way off. Ups and downs are part of the learning. No one test grade determines the final average. Patterns are what we look at and so should parents.
Is your student improving with each test or essay?
Is homework consistently done or not done? ( We all forget something every once in awhile.)
Are some chapters or text harder than others? ( The Odyssey test grades are usually lower than the ones on To Kill a Mockingbird. Southern students might have an advantage on that piece of literature and not on the ancient Greek one. )
How does your child relate to a particular teacher? ( Students tend to be more engaged in classes where they relate well to the teacher; and not all students like all teachers. Sometimes they have to learn to “ get through it” and learn from someone even if they don’t especially like them. This is an important life skill.)
These are all things to ask yourself, your student and the teachers as you navigate the waters of this first semester of high school. Am I saying not to take their phones away? Absolutely not! You own that phone and it is good parenting leverage when you need it, but look for patterns of behavior and in grades. If eyes are not rolling at home and doors are not slamming, then step back and consider that your fourteen- year- old might be doing the best that a brand new freshman can do – even if it doesn’t match last year’s best.